Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fascinating German rhythm

One of the most fascinating things about the United States is our musicality. Our pop music is full of complex rhythms, and we clap on 2 and 4 – which practically no one else in the world does (I am leaving out our influence on neighboring cultures like Canada and the UK).

Germans clap on 1, 2, 3, and 4, and the unbearable season of Carnival is about to begin filling up evening TV with such clapping. To get an idea of how terrible German clapping is, take a look at this video clip I've put together of two TV shows. The first is an afternoon cooking show, and it begins every day with a demonstration of Germans' incapacity to clap. It then segs into a nightly TV show on which a young (and quite rhythmically adapt) German guitarist plays an easy-to-follow rock song, but the audience nonetheless cannot clap to its rhythm.

Now, you might argue that the audience may not have been able to properly hear the music in the studio, though that seems doubtful in the second case, where the boy is standing in front of a stack. But no matter, it is hard to imagine any composer counting in Beethoven's Fifth with "a one, a two, a one two, three four"; classical music is nearly bereft of rhythm as we understand it in pop music, and German pop also remains quite straightforward rhythmically.

Indeed, the same could be said for large parts of Europe. As one American funk musician once said of Abba, they never were quite as big in the US as they were in Europe because they are "100 percent funk-free."

Obviously, at some point Americans also clapped on 1, 2, 3, 4 (or one & three, depending on how you count), so when did we switch over? Fascinatingly, I have found a video on YouTube of chubby Checker singing "The Twist," and if you listen to the first minute, you will hear the audience clapping on 1 & 3 – the way, Germans do even today to pop, swing, funk, etc. But just after the first minute, the crowd seems to lose its bearing, and by 1:20 the audience has switched over to clapping on 2 & 4 the way, Americans would automatically do today – though they can't keep it up.

Unfortunately, the video does not indicate when it was recorded, but "The Twist" was first recorded in 1959 and became a hit for chubby checker in 1960. I imagine the US did not switch to clapping on 2 & 4 all at once. Rather, the people listening to "race records" (as R&B was originally referred to) probably started it off, and in that chubby Checker video we are witnessing the last vestiges of white-bread America around 1960 not yet clapping as we Americans all do today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haiti: aid pledged and aid paid

Dirk Niebel
Dirk Niebel, Germany's aid czar. Image by Liberale via Flickr
In one of the translations I am working on, this UN report on the percentage of aid actually paid out (compared to the amount pledged) to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake is referenced.

Typically, while the United States is probably very proud of its overall pledged volume to Haiti, which is second in the world behind Venezuela, only 23.9 percent of that money has actually been made available two years after the earthquake. If I read those two columns for "dispersed" correctly, it seems that the 40 million people in Spain have out-donated more than 300 million Americans.

Along with Finland, Japan actually delivered on more than 100 percent of its pledge.

Disappointingly, the German government (representing some 80 million people) has only made good on 36 percent of its pledge, which was meager to begin with at less than half of what the 5 million people of Norway promised.

Chancellor Merkel appointed a man named Niebel as the Development Cooperation Minister when she took office a few years ago. Although his Wikipedia site in English does not mention it, Niebel (like the US's John Bolton, who was appointed ambassador to the UN after calling for the dissolution of that organization) is uniquely qualified for that position as he called for the BMZ (Germany's Development Cooperation Ministry) to be abolished and subsumed under the Foreign Affairs Office so that the emphasis could be on promoting German exports.

Since becoming head of German aid, Niebel has not only failed to make good on his word in Haiti, but he also reneged on his promise to get rid of the ministry he now heads. Instead, he has chosen to fill it up with members of his own political party. The German Bundestag is currently looking into the matter.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

David de Rothschild for 50% peak tax

In an interview over at Die Zeit, David de Rothschild – the American-born head of the famous banking family who now runs the bank from France – says the following:

If the rich only paid 20 or 30 percent tax (the current peak tax rate in the US is 35 percent), I would say that that is unacceptably low. But we currently pay just over 50 percent. I think that's perfect. I earn 100 euros, keep half, and share the other half.…
If the government decides that there needs to be greater solidarity and the tax rate needs to increase to 58 or 60 percent so we can get out of this crisis, then it has my support… but I would not offer to do so voluntarily because that would leave the impression on people that the rich have done something wrong.

The current peak tax in Germany is 43 percent, though there is a Reichensteuer that brings that level up to 45 percent. At the moment, the majority of Germans still seem to be in favor of higher taxation, but it is interesting to see that so many rich people who would be affected also don't really have a problem paying higher taxes.

And of course, as I wrote yesterday at Renewables International, Germans are also willing to pay more for green power.